close
close

The ‘underground’ network of people who help obtain abortions

While waiting in a long line at the post office with the latest shipment of “abortion aftercare kits,” Kimra Luna received a text message. A woman who had taken abortion pills three weeks earlier was concerned about bleeding and wanted to disclose the cause to a doctor.

“Bleeding doesn’t mean you have to go in,” Luna responded on the encrypted messaging app Signal. “Some people bleed on and off for a month.”

It was a typically busy afternoon for Luna, a doula and reproductive care activist in a state with some of the strictest abortion laws in the country. Those laws make the job a constant struggle, the 38-year-old said, but they draw strength from others in a makeshift national network of helpers — clinic navigators, abortion fund leaders and individual volunteers who have become a supporting cast for people in restrictive conditions. states that want abortion.

“This is the underground,” said Jerad Martindale, an activist in Boise.


What you need to know

  • A makeshift national network of abortion doulas, clinic navigators, and individual volunteers help people living in restrictive states who need or want an abortion
  • Abortion rights advocates say these helpers are especially important in states with strict abortion laws where options are shrinking
  • Opponents of abortion say the laws protect the unborn and direct women to their centers, which offer such things as parenting classes and baby supplies.
  • Volunteers who help women find abortions say the work is as essential as something like a volunteer fire department

Abortion rights advocates are concerned. Idaho is a harbinger of where more states are headed. Here, abortion is banned with very limited exceptions at all stages of pregnancy, and a law signed by the governor but temporarily blocked bans adults from helping minors leave the state for abortions without parental consent. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over Idaho’s enforcement of its hospital emergency abortion ban.

Carol Tobias, chair of the National Right to Life Committee, said laws like Idaho’s protect the unborn. While she doesn’t know if anything can be done to stop people from helping others get abortions, she said, “I certainly wish they wouldn’t do it.”

But Luna and others view their work as mutual aid, as essential to the community as a volunteer fire department.

“I couldn’t live with myself if I was just scared and didn’t do the things I do,” says the single parent of three boys, who uses the pronoun she. “I know I’m here to do this.”

‘We always found a way’

Luna, who traces their family back generations to Idaho, lives and works in a small house inherited from their grandparents. Their reproductive rights activism goes back to handing out condoms in eighth grade. And their abortion – while married and living in New York – only strengthened their resolve.

Luna helps run Idaho Abortion Rights, launched in 2022 with additional bail money raised after they were arrested during a protest. In their home office, they proudly hang a name tag of the arrest next to flyers for abortion pills with slogans like “The future is in our hands.”

Feeling strongly that those pills should be accessible, they once brought some to the Capitol steps to prove that residents could still get them online, and recently got a facial tattoo of a mailbox where abortion pills fell out.

Luna is a full-spectrum doula, who assists with both births and abortions, and trains others how to be abortion doulas. They typically provide remote support, counseling, answers to questions throughout the abortion process, and referrals to resources such as plancpills.org, the Northwest Abortion Fund, out-of-state clinics, and domestic violence shelters.

“We’ve always found a way to make sure people get help, no matter what that help is,” Luna said.

Sometimes that means a visit to an abortion clinic. Luna once flew to Colorado with a woman whose fetus died at 28 weeks’ gestation, and stayed by her side for the two-day procedure. “She needed someone to be there for emotional support and tell her what to expect,” Luna said.

They also care for people after an abortion. One morning in April, eight women—from Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska—requested follow-up care packages. Luna gathered them on the couch, pink and purple braids falling in their faces as they filled packets with essentials like sanitary pads, Advil, over-the-counter stomach and nausea medications, and red raspberry leaf tea.

Before heading to the post office, Luna loaded their car with large boxes of condoms for that evening’s “wrapping party,” where volunteers would assemble other prevention-focused kits to give away.

Beyond Idaho

In places where abortion is legal, clinic navigators provide some of the same types of logistical help as Luna, such as linking patients to abortion funds to pay for procedures and travel. In the year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the National Network of Abortion Funds said it saw a 39% increase in requests and distributed about $37 million to people seeking abortions.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has three full-time navigators for its 21 clinics, one of which is virtual, in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Together, the navigators handle about 1,000 calls a month — some from out-of-state patients who have to drive up to 17 hours for care, said Adrienne Mansanares, the organization’s president and CEO.

Planned Parenthood of Maryland also has a three-person navigation program, which handles an influx of patients from restrictive states like West Virginia or places like Virginia, where the procedure is allowed until the third trimester, but demand is so high that many people can’t do that. get appointments.

“What we’re doing is making sure they can get access to something that’s safer faster and with fewer complications,” said Tica Torres, who oversees the others on the team.

Abortion opponents, meanwhile, are trying to steer people away from terminating their pregnancies and toward centers that they say also offer support such as pregnancy-related information, parenting classes and baby supplies.

For someone “who is unsure of how to proceed and who is trying to figure out what resources are available to her if she wants to carry the pregnancy to term, there is support” in about 3,000 locations nationwide, said Tobias of the Right to Life Committee. “That’s definitely the better way to go.”

Some people dealing with an unplanned pregnancy find answers online.

DakotaRei Belladonna Frausto, a 19-year-old student at San Antonio College in Texas, recalled feeling “clueless and overwhelmed” when they became pregnant a few years ago. They knew they wanted an abortion, but discovered they had to travel 700 miles to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to get one. Eventually they got help through a Facebook group.

Frausto, whose family includes Mescalero Apache, decided to create a new private group, which has several chat rooms where 500 members can share abortion experiences, resources and support — and find others with similarly diverse backgrounds.

“What makes this group so effective,” Frausto said, “is that people know that everyone in the group who is actively answering questions has been in the same place.”

‘A community responsibility’

Many of the two dozen volunteers who gathered at a Boise community center for Luna’s “wrapping party” shared their stories as they collected boxes of emergency contraception, condoms and information about access to abortions.

Stephanie Vaughan, 39, said she had an abortion at age 17, while having a baby might have kept her from going to college and getting a good job. Martindale, who was standing across the table from her, recalled how a friend was able to have an abortion as a teenager.

“No one knows how to raise a child when you’re a child,” the now 45-year-old said.

Martindale and his wife Jen spend much of their free time working on abortion rights in Idaho. At any given time, they have 3,000 packages of donated emergency contraception to give away at their home.

“I have children who could be pregnant. I live in a state with a lot of marginalized people,” said Jen Martindale, 48. “It’s a community responsibility.”

Tori Coates, a 20-year-old barista at Starbucks, said that if she were to become pregnant now, “it would be personal suffering. I can’t afford to leave the state.”

By the time the volunteers headed home, the fading light of day illuminated the mountains. The Martindales had more work the next morning: taking reproductive health supplies to local stores that offered them for free.

Their first stop was Purple Lotus, a clothing and accessories store. Jerad Martindale placed a box on the counter, which employee Taylor Castillo immediately opened. ‘Pregnancy tests? Oh good,” she said. “They flew!”

Customers ask for supplies every day, she told the couple, especially emergency contraception. Teenagers often swoop in to grab them.

Castillo said she would like to help. When she suffered a miscarriage in 2021, her doctor prescribed the same pills used in abortion medications. She wonders what would happen if she needed those pills today.

“Now everything is on fire,” she said. “The great thing is that there are mutual aid programs that want to stand up for us.”